Ranked 20th to start the season and reliant on a freshman-heavy roster, few gave Florida State a fighting chance to succeed in 2012.
But the ‘Noles shocked everyone by winning 50 games, including a magical run all the way to the semifinals of the College World Series in Omaha.
It all began when James Ramsey, the first Seminole to ever wear a captain's "C" on his chest, rejected an offer from the Minnesota Twins in order to return to FSU for his senior season. Besides his ACC-Player-of-the-Year-to-be skill set, Ramsey's constant leadership on and off the field provided immeasurable value.
Despite a unified bunch fully believing in its collective ability, many outsiders still doubted FSU's talent. Ramsey answered those doubts with a sentiment he upheld throughout the campaign.
"We're not really concerned about the expectations that are placed on us," he said one day prior to the season. "They're probably as low as they've ever been since I've been here. But that's fine because in college baseball it's all about getting hot in June, and that's what were realizing."
Not waiting until June to get hot, the ‘Noles blistered out of the gate. Excluding an exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, FSU emerged victorious in 21 of its first 23 contests, including sweeps over Hofstra, Maine, UCF, Duke, Virginia and Stetson.
A good portion of the club's early-season success displayed the talents of freshmen Jose Brizuela, John Nogowski, Josh Delph and John Holland, who all played major roles down the stretch.
Ramsey demanded greatness from each and every rookie.
"I tell those guys, "Be a Freshman All-American. Be an All-American,'" said Ramsey before the season. "Don't worry about those awards, but you can always get better."
Freshman hurlers Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton took note. Aided by the direction of new pitching coach Mike Bell, Leibrandt and Compton tore through competition and went on to garner those aforementioned Freshman All-American honors. Compton's 12 wins tied him with former first-round pick Sean Gilmartin for the most as a freshman in Seminole history. Rookie Luke Weaver and junior Scott Sitz also added depth to a starting rotation that made it easy for one of the nation's top defenses to perform day in and day out.
Surprisingly, Florida State struggled against the rival Gators in 2012. In the April meeting in Tallahassee, Florida overcame Devon Travis' first-inning home run to complete the season sweep over the ‘Noles.
The Garnet and Gold rebounded by taking 12 of their next 13 matchups, including dramatic walk-off victories over Miami and Rhode Island.
But just when they looked invincible, the Seminoles fell into a late-season swoon, dropping five of their final nine regular-season contests and losing their first weekend series all year to Clemson. To make matters worse, the ‘Noles failed to win a single game in a frustrating ACC Tournament.
In the opener of the Tallahassee Regional against UAB, Sherman Johnson kept the game tied by nailing a runner at home and propelled FSU to a 2-1 win. The ‘Noles never looked back, claiming the regional with consecutive wins over a hot Samford team.
In the Super Regional, the ‘Noles refused to back down from Stanford ace Mark Appel, who was chosen eighth overall in the Major League Baseball draft. Trailing 1-0, FSU pieced together a seven-run fourth en route to a 17-1 Game 1 victory over the Cardinal. Two nights later, closer Robert Benincasa, who dominated out of the bullpen with 16 saves, struck out Austin Slater to conclude a 17-8 victory and send the Seminoles to the College World Series.
Playing Arizona in the opener in Omaha, shaky defense and a Travis strikeout with the tying run on third in the 12th inning ended the game and pinned the ‘Noles in an immediate hole.
Travis and Justin Gonzalez both went deep to help FSU down Stony Brook 12-2, and Sitz magnificently struck out the side with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth to lead the ‘Noles to a 4-1 victory over UCLA.
Needing to beat Arizona twice after coming out of the loser's bracket, the Seminoles were eliminated when soft singles and a key error put them in a 6-0 first-inning deficit that they failed to overcome.
Still without his first championship, coach Mike Martin maintains that winning one won't define him.
"Sure I want to win one, but the journey far outweighs the destination," said Martin after the season had drawn to a close. "It's not going to change me in any way if we ever do win one. But the lessons, the improvement, the camaraderie, the memories, the experience that we just had, you can't take that away from us."
Looking ahead to 2013, a youthful staff presents a major strength. With Leibrandt, Compton and Sitz back, plus a recruiting class filled with pitching talent, fans can look forward to many dominant outings on the mound.
FSU's main problem lies with potentially losing its key juniors to the pros.
Leading RBI man Jayce Boyd already hinted via Twitter that he leans toward bypassing his senior year to take the Mets up on their offer: "Well, an 80 isn't a bad way to finish (his round of golf). Time to load up and head home for a short break, then Brooklyn here I come. Been a fun ride Tally."
Gonzalez, Travis and Benincasa face the same temptation.
Drafted in the 27th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers and full of potential, but plagued by injuries this year, Gonzalez still has a lot he could do at the collegiate level. Gonzalez's decision of whether to return to Tallahassee may influence Travis, his best friend, to do the same -- and vice-versa. Benincasa can't get significantly better in college and is likely off to the Washington Nationals organization.
Worst-case scenario, Martin faces losing his entire infield from third to first, meaning playing the likes of Holland, Nogowski and Giovanny Alfonzo every day is a real possibility.
These players proved their ability to step in and play well, but for Florida State to truly find success in 2013, Martin needs his keystone combination of Gonzalez and Travis to sit comfortably in front of their lockers at Dick Howser Stadium for one more year.
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
Reviewing 2012, previewing 2013
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